Leno Goes Left

by on November 2, 2017

San Francisco’s 2019 Mayor’s race is still two years away, but Mark Leno is already moving to secure progressive votes. In the past week Leno endorsed Rafael Mandelman for supervisor in D8 and Matt Haney in D6. Both will get all or most of the city’s progressive electoral endorsements.

This is the type of savvy action associated with SCN Strategies, which is running Leno’s mayoral campaign. It tells two potential progressive candidates who have yet to say they are not running for mayor—Dennis Herrera and Jane Kim—that progressives are uniting behind Leno.  Locking up progressive support early allows Leno to focus on moderate voters without risking the loss of votes on the left.

“A New Class of Leaders”

In endorsing Mandelman, Leno said “here’s what gives me hope: there’s a new class of leaders emerging, one that I believe will finally move us past the progressive vs. moderate divide that has stalled City Hall. I know for a fact that Rafael Mandelman is that kind of leader.”

One year ago, Leno backed another “new class of leader:” Scott Wiener. Wiener was running for State Senate against Jane Kim after trouncing Mandelman in the 2010 Supervisor’s race. Kim won nearly all of the progressive endorsements that Mandelman will get.  Leno’s endorsement of Mandelman is part of an effort to strengthen his progressive alliances after backing Wiener against Kim.

Wiener, along with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, has endorsed Jeff Sheehy in D8. Wiener touted Sheehy as doing a “terrific job representing us at City Hall.” He described him as a Supervisor “who understands how to get things done and who will work hard to serve our neighborhoods’ needs.”

“The Real Deal”

Leno further shored up progressive support by endorsing Matt Haney in D6. Haney’s campaign is being run by Nate Albee, who is active in the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and close to progressive supervisor Hillary Ronen. Milk Club activists are likely the ones most angry at Leno for backing Wiener over Kim in 2016 and for not endorsing David Campos in his 2014 Assembly race against David Chiu; the Haney endorsement, like that of Mandelman, is a concrete action showing Leno is trying to make amends.

Calling Haney “The Real Deal,” Leno stated “I’ve been a public servant for 18 years and have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of elected officials. But the best of these elected officials all have one thing in common — they’re out there in the neighborhoods of their district, working to make the lives of their constituents better.”

Matt Haney has a lot of strengths but being “out there in the neighborhoods” is not among them. The chief criticism of Haney is that his job frequently took him out of the city. I don’t know what D6 neighborhoods Mark Leno has seen Haney “out there working for his constituents” but it was not the Tenderloin or Sixth Street until after he announced his candidacy.

Haney recognizes this criticism and has committed to being around D6 for the balance of his campaign (which, in his defense, has a year to go). Less important than the accuracy of Leno’s depiction is the savviness of the endorsement.

Even if a major new candidate enters the D6 race (Haney currently faces pro-housing activist Sonja Trauss), Haney will get virtually all the traditional progressive endorsements. In the meantime Leno’s problems with progressives over his backing Wiener over Kim in 2016 and his sitting out the Campos race in 2014 will be forgotten;  Leno will instead be credited for backing progressives in the two most contested supervisor races of 2018.

Endorsements vs. Outcomes

Leno’s endorsements don’t  even hurt him if his chosen candidates lose. He has ensured that when the 2019 mayor’s race begins,  fresh in progressive voters’ minds will be his 2018 endorsements . Few will even remember who Mark Leno endorsed for State Senate in 2016 or did not endorse for Assembly in 2014.

With Mandelman, Haney, Albee and their allies on board the Leno train (and Peskin already backs Leno), his control over the progressive base heading into 2019 will be firm. That will allow him to make inroads into political territory that favors David Chiu, Carmen Chu, or other candidates while his progressive base could be off limits.

Mark Leno may be out of the public spotlight, but his campaign is in election mode.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His most recent book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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